He may have been described as 'unemployable' by BBC F1
commentator Martin Brundle, but Nelsinho Piquet remains 'a great driver' with 'a huge talent', argues the Briton's former Formula 1 team-mate Mark Blundell as D-Day approaches in the Renault 'Singapore-gate' scandal.
On Monday (21 September), the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) will hear evidence as it endeavours to deliver a verdict on whether or not the French manufacturer is guilty of the charge of which it stands accused – instructing Piquet to deliberately crash out of the sport's inaugural night race just under a year ago to enable team-mate Fernando Alonso to triumph from a disadvantaged grid slot following engine woes in qualifying.
Should Renault indeed be deemed to have conspired to manipulate the outcome of the grand prix, the potential ramifications range as far as expulsion from the world championship altogether – and Blundell admits the whole situation is baffling and unlike anything he has ever come across before.
“Until we understand what the facts are from both sides, it's difficult to make an assessment,” he reflected, speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio
, “but it's difficult also when you see two key people leave the team before the hearing. At this point, it doesn't look very good for Renault. It's such a big accusation being made, and the outcome of it is going to be pretty dramatic. Whether there's any factual truth to it or not we'll have to wait and see, but as things progress I'm sure the truth will come out.
“I hope it's not as bad as what people think, and I hope the perception of Formula 1 isn't dented too much – because at this time, we really don't need that kind of thing. F1 in general over the last couple of years has taken a beating, and we need to make sure we get on top of that and that everyone watches it for the right reasons – and the right reasons are that we see outstanding racing on Sunday afternoons. As soon as we can get back to that, all the better.”
The 'two key people' to whom Blundell alludes are, of course, Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, both of whom parted company with Renault earlier in the week, leaving the Enstone-based outfit heading back to Singapore next weekend without a managing director or executive director of engineering. The former Brabham, Ligier, Tyrrell and McLaren star confessed that their departure – either jumping or being pushed before the time comes to face the music in front of the WMSC – was not what he had been expecting.
“It does surprise me,” the Englishman revealed, “because immediately it signals that there's an element of guilt there. We have to be careful and see what the facts are, but it is quite difficult to understand why they've walked out of the situation and not put themselves in a position to be questioned on it. We've seen certain individuals in the past – Mike Coughlan, Nigel Stepney – be reprimanded for things that have gone on, and maybe that might be the case with these guys, but this is a whole different ball game. Let's wait and see what happens from the hearing; maybe we'll understand more next week.
“At the end of the day the charge is against the Renault team. Obviously key people were instrumental in what went on there on a day-to-day basis; whether they were instrumental in what's been said from Nelson Piquet Jnr and whether that accusation is true or not, we're yet to really find out. That's what everyone's waiting for, the challenging question – was it true or was it not?”
That is, indeed, the crux of the matter, and if it does transpire to be true, the secondary question arises as to why Piquet actually went ahead and complied with his employers' demands, knowing that to do so would endanger lives – not least his own.